Topeka — Kansas is expected to start requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls next year after a bill imposing the new rule won final approval Tuesday from the state Legislature.
The House voted 111-11 to accept the Senate’s version of legislation proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach as a way to fight potential election fraud. The measure goes next to Gov. Sam Brownback, who is expected to sign it.
The measure also includes Kobach’s proposal to require people who register for the first time to vote in Kansas to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship to election officials. But the bill delays that requirement until 2013, a year later than Kobach wanted.
Overall, the final version is less stringent than Kobach wanted or what initially passed the House last month. It doesn’t include proposals from Kobach to increase penalties for election crimes or to give his office the authority to file and prosecute election fraud cases in state courts.
But Kobach still saw the bill’s passage as a major victory, saying it contained “90 percent” of what he wanted. He said the new law is a national model, and offered to consult with officials in other states on election fraud issues.
“While we can now be confident in Kansas that every future election is fairly won, that every future election is free from voter fraud or as free as a state can make it with such precautions, there are 49 other states,” Kobach said during a news conference after the House vote. “I sincerely and hopefully encourage our lead and embrace the Kansas model.”
Critics argued that Kobach’s proposal would suppress voter turnout and reduce registration numbers, but they saw the final version as significantly better. The House spent only a few minutes debating the new version before approving it.
Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Kansas City Democrat who was among the few remaining opponents, said the law will deter people from registering and voting. Ruiz said he was already worried about declining voter turnout, and now “it’s going to shrink even more.”
Kobach said voter registration and turnout won’t suffer.
Kobach made election fraud the key issue of his campaign for secretary of state last year, though critics argued that Kansas had no significant election problems.
Kobach released a study in January that said the secretary of state’s office has received 59 reports of alleged irregularities involving at least 221 ballots since 1997. That’s twice as many as documented by an internal report three years ago, and a tiny fraction of the millions of ballots that have been cast since then.
But Kobach said only a few questionable votes could swing a local or legislative race.
The alleged irregularities also don’t represent proven cases of voter fraud and are based on sometimes vague reports of wrongdoing. Critics contend many perceived irregularities boil down to mistakes by prospective voters and even election officials themselves, not deliberate fraud.
The bill would make Kansas the 10th state to require voters to show photo ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Kobach claimed that the Kansas photo ID requirement will be stricter than in most other states. He said that requirement, along with the proof-of-citizenship rule and other provisions designed to make mail ballots more secure, will put Kansas ahead of all other states.
The House approved the bill last month in the form Kobach wanted, but senators amended it. They said delaying the proof-of-citizenship requirement for a year will give the state more time to educate people.
They also said the delay would allow the Department of Revenue to get a planned system for scanning citizenship documents of people seeking driver’s licenses up and running, so the documents can be provided electronically to election officials. The department already had been planning to put the system in place because of a federal law designed to crack down on illegal immigration.
Democrats strongly criticized Kobach’s proposals, but the Senate’s version of the election fraud legislation had bipartisan support in both chambers. In the House, even Rep. Ann Mah, of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Elections Committee and Kobach’s most vocal legislative critic, voted for the measure.
Mah predicted the year’s delay in imposing the proof-of-citizenship requirement would allow time for the law to be challenged in court.
“I’m pretty sure that the worst parts of it are going to be thrown out in court, anyway, so it’s probably as good as we’re going to get,” Mah said.
Kobach said he’s confident the law will withstand a legal challenge, saying it was drafted to be “bulletproof” in court.